A Nation of Refugees: Ligiah Villalobos and La Misma Luna Find Mutuality in Jordan

Ligiah Villalobos and filmmakers from the Royal Film Commission following the workshop “From Script to Screen.”

Ligiah Villalobos

It is a little after 11:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15, 2013. I have just returned to my hotel in Amman, Jordan, after having the public screening of my film La Misma Luna to the news of two explosions earlier this afternoon at the Boston Marathon. My heart is broken.

Witnessing this type of event from a television set so far away from home is unsettling, regardless of who is ultimately responsible for such a tragedy.

The images on CNN of the explosions bring back so many memories—the type of memories you wish you never had. It makes me wonder how people in this part of the world will take the news of this horrific event, when there are still so many unanswered questions. But it also reaffirms the reason why we, as representatives of Film Forward, are here in the first place.

From the moment I arrived in Jordan just a few days ago, I knew I was entering a completely different world. I was hearing a language all around me that I had only heard before in movies or TV shows. There was Arabic writing everywhere, and I was forced to notice for the first time, just how truly beautiful it is—it is art in ink.

There were women dressed just as modern and as stylish as any Western woman, but also those covering their heads with beautiful head scarfs and decorative pins. And before we even made it into our hotel, I heard the chanting over a loudspeaker calling Muslims to prayer. It is also the chant I hear each morning as I begin to wake up. I can honestly say it is more beautiful and soothing than any alarm clock.

As we drove into Amman from the airport, it was clear we were in a desert city. Everything is the color beige—from the dirt and sand on the ground, to the buildings and homes where people work and live. There is no grass and very little greenery. The pops of color come from the fruit stands along the roads—local merchants selling bright red strawberries, green grapes, or yellow bananas. Jordan is a place that makes you feel so far from home. Yet, you are excited by the opportunity to experience it close-up.

One of the missions of Film Forward is to advance cultural dialogue with the local communities, through film. And we have certainly done that. In just a couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many film students and the general public and discuss both the art of filmmaking as well as how stories in film help us better understand the world and each other.

I’m struck by how a film like La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), which deals with the immigration issue in the United States, and more specifically undocumented immigrants from Latin America, has resonated so much with the local audiences in Jordan.

When I mentioned to some of the students how the United States was known as a “Nation of Immigrants,” they informed me that Jordan was known as a “Nation of Refugees.” Throughout history, the undocumented labor force in Jordan has been just as vital to the growth, evolution, and progress of this country as the undocumented labor force has been to the growth, evolution, and progress of the United States.

For me, the last few days have been an amazing learning experience. Film Forward may have brought my film to this country to give Jordanians an opportunity to see a film and a story that they may not have had an opportunity to see otherwise. But it does not compare to what Jordanians have given me over the last few days, through dialogue and debate, their warmth, and their welcoming spirit.

So as the sun rises tomorrow morning, we may get more information about who is responsible for this tragedy in Boston today—or we may not. Some will begin to make assumptions, and others will have already jumped to conclusions. But regardless of what we learn, or who is ultimately responsible, I consider it a privilege to be here at this moment—in the Middle East, in an Arab country, surrounded by Muslims and engaging in a cultural dialogue, through film.

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Alexis Chikaeze as Kai in 'Miss Juneteenth,' coming to digital platforms June 19

Channing Godfrey Peoples on a Bittersweet ‘Miss Juneteenth’ Release and the Urgency of Portraying Black Humanity on Screen

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature is hitting digital platforms this Juneteenth—the day for which the film is named and which is very close to the director’s heart. “I feel like I’ve been living Miss Juneteenth my whole life,” she says.
The June 19 holiday—which commemorates the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas (more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was issued)—is celebrated in her hometown of Fort Worth with a deep sense of reverence and community, with barbecues, a parade, and a scholarship pageant for young Black women.

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